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US, Italy Move Against Organizations With Suspected Links to al-Qaida - 2002-08-29

The United States and Italy announced Thursday they have moved jointly to block the financial assets of 25 individuals and organizations suspected of links to the al-Qaida terrorist network.

Top financial officials in Washington and Rome announced both countries have frozen assets of 11 individuals and 14 organizations, as part of the continuing effort to financially paralyze entities allegedly financing terrorist activities.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill says the action makes clear that America is, in his words, "serious about shutting down any company or organization that is in the business of supporting terrorism."

The names of the businesses and account holders are being passed on to the United Nations to be placed on an international terrorism blacklist.

All the individuals affected by the move are related to the Salafist Group for Call and Combat.

U.S. officials say the Algerian-based terrorist organization operates in North Africa, Italy and Spain, and is linked to al-Qaida.

In addition to praising Italy for its support, U.S. officials also named Luxembourg and the Bahamas for providing financial information and investigative assistance in the effort to freeze the funding.

Since the September 11th terrorist attacks, the United States and other countries have frozen more than $112-million in assets, and identified 234 individuals and organizations for allegedly supplying money to fund terrorism.

Earlier, the Washington Post newspaper reported that global efforts to block funding for the al-Qaida terrorist network have stalled.

Citing a draft report by the United Nations, the newspaper says al-Qaida still has access to tens-of-millions of dollars to finance future terrorist attacks.

The report says al-Qaida is continuing to draw funds from the personal inheritance of Osama bin Laden, as well as from investments and money diverted or embezzled from charitable organizations.

It says al-Qaida's decision to shift its assets into precious metals and gems, and to transfer money through informal exchange networks called Hawalas, has made it virtually impossible for authorities to trace all of the group's funds.

The report says efforts to block al-Qaida's financial holdings have also been hampered by the inadequate auditing of religious charities and lax border controls in several European countries.

The report estimates that al-Qaida's backers in North Africa, the Middle East and Asia manage at least $30-million in investments for the organization.

The draft report says the "prime targets of the organization are likely to be persons and property of the United States of America, its allies in the fighting against al-Qaida, as well as Israel."

The U.N. report is expected to be released next week.